I HAVE OVERCOME THE WORLD – John 16:33

How have you answered this question lately: “How are you keeping?”

Anything like my answers? ‘Tired’, ‘Busy’, ‘Struggling on’, ‘Looking forward to the break’, ‘Overwhelmed’, ‘Trying to keep my head up’. Or perhaps you haven’t expressed these things, but are feeling them: ‘Worried’, ‘Sad’, ‘Down’, ‘Fearful’…

Why do we experience the madness of the world, and the madness of our own worlds a bit more acutely this time of the year? Whatever the reasons, a part of God’s Word has come home to me a whole lot more forcefully lately – Jesus’ words to his disciples in their world, with all its governmental madness: “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In this world, you will have tribulation. But take heart; I HAVE OVERCOME THE WORLD.” John 16:33

Jesus is preparing them for the time when he will be gone, when they will desert him as he goes to the Cross, but because of the Father’s love for them will be restored, and then released into their crazy world, armed with the message of Christ crucified -the One who has overcome the world. I take at least two great encouragements from Jesus’ words. Something we will find in this world, and something we will find in Him:

‘In this world…

you will have tribulation’… trouble, difficulty, persecution, struggle, trial, hardship, failure, loss, grief, moelikheid!

How is that an encouragement!? Well, the Bible tells us what to expect from this world -it doesn’t hold on to some utopian, idealistic notion of this present world. It doesn’t sugarcoat or ignore reality. This side of heaven, there will always be self-serving leadership battles, protests, poverty, wars, disasters, tragedies, persecution, and the like. When tough things happen to us, it is not strange -it is what we are to expect from a creation ‘subjected to futility’ (Rom 8:20)  It forces us to look to the One who is in control. And particularly here, as even the disciples’ own painful desertion of Jesus at the Cross is prophesied-revealing that they are not the ‘somebodies’ they may think they are, but as they will learn from Jesus’ remarkable preparation for their failure- ‘nobodies’ used by His Grace and for His Glory!

As CH Dodd said: ‘It is part of the character and genius of the Church that its foundation members were discredited men; it owed its existence not to their faith, courage, or virtue, but to what Christ had done with them; and this they could never forget.’

But secondly, take heart from what we find in Jesus:

…in me you may have peace.’

What a promise in the midst of such a conflicted world, of such conflicted hearts: Peace!

Can this really be so, or is it a phantom like the peace declared by British Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain before world war two broke out!?

It all depends on who is offering the peace, and what this peace is, and as we will see, we cannot separate the two. It is clearly not ‘world peace’ in the classic beauty pageant answer-sense! It is peace promised amidst world chaos! What kind of peace is this?

The answer lies in knowing Jesus and what he has come to do, and this Jesus answers when he speaks of ‘overcoming the world’, that those who trust in Him find true peace.

In what sense has Jesus accomplished victory over the world -conquered it?

It’s what the whole discourse from ch14 has been all about. Remember it started with that assurance to the troubled disciples hearts – ‘Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.’ (Jn 14:1) His preparation of a place for them, his giving of the Spirit, his binding them to himself the Vine, him forging deep friendship with them -all these hopeful, glorious, eternal gifts all come by means of His one great mission for which he came: They all come via his death, all through the Cross. It’s that, his death, resurrection, and exaltation that triumphantly conquer and bring certain, real peace. Jesus is calling his disciples to look at the world from the perspective of this triumph. He is calling us all to do that, especially when the heat is turned up -when the world presses in with its temptations, allure, and lusts; when the world scythes in with its slander, suppression, and persecution; when the world groans with disease, difficulty, and grief; when your world teeters with doubts, discouragement and desperation -look at it from the perspective of His triumph, and hold on! Therein lies the secret to joy, perseverance, and true peace. Therein lies the heart of the call to the churches in the letters in the book of Revelation -‘to him who overcomes’. Who is the one who overcomes? Is it not the one who keeps trusting the Overcoming King until he returns and brings His reward with Him?

That is what really matters -clinging to the faithful Jesus until his triumphant return.

What a year it has been -2016 is nearly over, and much of it from a St James perspective has been very blessed. Thank you for your ministry, your generosity, your prayers, your encouragement, your investment in God’s work here, your celebration with us for 30 years of service for Jesus in this place. But it would all be worthless without faithful perseverance in Jesus -thank you for that most of all, and may we continue in Him fruitfully for His Glory.

And can I take this opportunity to wish you on behalf of the staff a Christmas season and holiday that will be greatly blessed and Christ-centred -may we have many conversations about Him, and may we use much of the time to reflect on our response to the world. And doing so, may we rest in His peace.

I leave you with Don Carson’s words: “On the one hand the world appears all the more evil and loathsome; yet, on the other hand, this is the world for which the Lamb of God died. On the one hand, this is the world that rejected the Saviour and condemned him to death; yet, on the other hand, by that same death, the Saviour defeated the prince of this world. On the one hand, this is the world which persecutes God’s people and inflicts both petty irritants and massive scourges upon them; yet, on the other hand, that is the way the Master went, and therefore it is the way his disciples must be prepared to go. On the one hand, the world spells trouble; but on the other hand, living by faith in Jesus enables us to partake of the age to come and thereby serve and grow as members of an eschatological community transported into time.”

 

 

BISHOP GLEN LYONS’ CHARGE – 2016

To view and download a PDF version of the Charge click here. 

Greetings to you all in the name of our Saviour.

It is a great joy to be meeting together at St. Stephen’s Church, which this year celebrates 75 years of gospel ministry. Numbers of people have come to know Christ, grow in Christ and gone on to serve Christ from this place. Much of our denomination’s history is also connected to this local church and we give God all the glory for what has been accomplished for the Kingdom through St. Stephen’s, Claremont.

The State of REACH-SA

Last year I noted, with some concern, the relative plateau in our membership, clergy and college numbers. This situation is not going to turn around overnight, but one year later there are already positive signs of action and answers to prayer. I believe the honest assessment of our situation has been a healthy reality check for us and I’m encouraged by the many conversations and proposals that have come my way in the last year. There is also evidence of much creative thinking and planning with regards to evangelism, discipleship and training which really are the three ministry pillars of our gospel work (Evangelism, Edification, Equipping).  I plan to do a yearly focus on one the 6 E’s in the charge. This year will be Evangelism.

I must also add how helpful it has been for me to visit many of our churches and see first hand the varied challenges and opportunities you all face. Many of our workers labour in the context of great social and financial disadvantages yet I am regularly humbled by the attitude of those same workers who continue to persevere in their task without seeking worldly attention or earthly reward. I thank our God for giving us men and women with such Kingdom hearts. To those of you who toil in trying circumstances, with little or no recognition, I assure you that the Lord knows all your labours for Him and you shall not lose your reward.

I’m particularly excited to see more and more young people involved in our churches. I have been to numerous youth, young adult and student events in the last year and have been amazed and encouraged at the sight of hundreds of young men and women with a hunger for God’s Word. I have also had many conversations with gifted, young believers from a diversity of colours and cultures about the possibility of future full time ministry. This is a wonderful sign and an answer to prayer. We give thanks to God for showing us His hand on a new generation and for giving us a part to play in shaping and growing these young followers of Christ.

I also see more and more the value of regional and local church based  Ministry Apprenticeship Programs and they role they play in equipping God’s people for more effective service. I’m grateful to God for our hard working ministers who take time to train and mentor young workers under their charge. I know that many of you could be tempted to more comfortable overseas opportunities or to earning more money in higher paying careers but it’s clear that the Kingdom of God has gripped your hearts and you willingly serve self-sacrificially because of the Jesus who sacrificed to save you. It is a great blessing to be serving the Lord with you.

I’m sure you will hear more in the George Whitefield College principal’s report of the marked upswing in GWC enrollments. This is a wonderful answer to prayer and we give thanks to God for a college that is committed to the authority of God’s Word as well as to the particular distinctives of our Reformed, Evangelical, Anglican denomination. We must continue to pray that our College will be used by God all the more fruitfully as we work together to equip men and women to be effective servants of the gospel in Africa.

I want to spend some time revisiting the five focus points I raised in 2016.

  1. Personal – Strengthening our Workers

The care of our clergy and ministry workers remains a constant concern for me. This year we gather again with faces missing from our ranks due to some or other issue that has resulted in a minister’s exit from ministry.  These situations are a cause of much sadness to me and also a reminder of how each of us continues to stand by God’s grace alone. The combination of our own sinful hearts and the stresses and temptations of modern life do take their toll. Some of our ministers are battling issues and temptations and feel there is no one to help. Some are struggling with physical and mental troubles others are grappling with deep financial, marriage or family difficulties. There are also those who are sinking deeper into secret habitual sins. Even issues of pornography and drug addiction are not foreign to clergy.

Addressing these problems is complex. Admitting them may well be an important first step for some of us. Avoiding them is my first concern for all of us.  I want to urge all our workers to ‘watch your life and doctrine closely’ (1Tim.4:16). Do not allow the daily disciplines to slip away. Be regular in prayer and Bible reading, avoid isolation and maintain transparency with a trusted fellow worker. Let us also avoid the sinful temptation to show ourselves as omni-competent islands of strength. Beware of pride (1Cor.10:12; Gal.6:3). It is boasting in our weakness that causes Christ’s power to be seen in us (2 Cor.12:9).

Our dependence on each other is not a sign of failure. Our Saviour Himself was born reliant on a mother’s care and a father’s protection. Dependence actually affords us opportunity to serve one another and so glorify God.  Remember that we are all called to bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ (Gal.6:1,2).

In response to the Synod 2015 motion calling for recommendations on care for our workers I am glad to report that progress has been made.  We are exploring a partnership with a counseling retreat centre in the Western Cape and hope to see more developments in other regions too.

Secondly on this topic I want to add a niggling concern. It is true that some are struggling to work effectively due to ill health and workload stress, but others seem to be nothing other than lazy. Some local church workers are clearly coasting and even idling. This is unacceptable for men and women who have been given such a high calling. Remember that many in our congregations give sacrificially to enable us to commit ourselves to full time gospel ministry. What an awesome privilege! God’s people are right to expect us to give ourselves wholly to the task. I would strongly urge every church worker to take seriously the Bible’s urging to labour faithfully for the Master (Col.1:28,29; 2 Tim.2:15; 1 Pet.5:2). It would be shameful for us to regard ministry as sheltered employment or an easy career move. It would also not be honouring to God to continue in ministry when you are clearly not gifted or willing to work at it. Part of this fault also lies with leadership not being honest and confronting situations early enough. We leaders must be willing to have the hard conversations for the ultimate good of the gospel.

  1. Planning – Seeking Church Growth

Last year I emphasised the importance of intentional planning as essential to moving toward church growth. Every local church should be structuring their year ahead to include community mission and evangelistic outreach. It is also good wisdom for church leaders to take time to learn tools for managing people and projects at a local church level. This kind of skill is not a Bible College responsibility but something every church leader should give some time to. Andrew Heard (genevapush.com) was recently in SA and gave us very helpful seminars on leadership and growing healthy churches. You can download these sessions from the Generate website (Generatesa.com).

This year marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of J.C.Ryle. This first Bishop of Liverpool has been a great influence to many of us over our years in the Church of England in South Africa. Many of our ministers cut their teeth on books such as Holiness, Practical Religion and Knots Untied.  I recommend you take time to read Ryle if you have not yet done so. Much of his writing and wisdom remains relevant because it is so rooted in Biblical truth.

It has been interesting to learn how Ryle went about his work in a new diocese that was poorly funded and poorly staffed. Their mission field was a city sprawling with thousands of poor working class miners and dockyard workers. His task of reaching the lost seemed almost impossible. Yet Ryle set himself to work and his methods still bear consideration. He set aside much of the day’s formal and ceremonial Anglicanism and even shelved expensive plans for a cathedral. Instead he set to work on what matters most, getting the gospel to the people.  Andrew Atherstone notes:

Ryle’s plan was to break up the large parishes into districts of 3,500 inhabitants and to deploy a team of three gospel workers in each – a missionary curate, aided by two lay assistants (a ‘Scripture Reader’ and a ‘Bible Woman’). He looked for them to engage in energetic door-to-door evangelism and to plant a church which should be self-supporting within five years. Liverpool was one of the poorest dioceses in the country, without the significant endowments, in the form of tithe and glebe, enjoyed by some of its older neighbours.[1]

Ryle’s tactics paid off and the Lord grew the churches in Liverpool as masses of people were reached and won to Christ.

Notice a few things about Ryle’s approach:

a. He targeted the high population areas and broke down the challenge into achievable goals. He divided the parishes into smaller districts and deployed a gospel team at ‘ground level’. These workers used any room available to hold gospel meetings and Bible studies as well as entering people’s homes. The new churches grew from these activities.

I believe we too need to break down the vast challenge of reaching our population into achievable goals.  Much work has been done in the past with regards to identifying key population areas and assessing church planting methods. Some of the challenges seem huge but breaking down tasks into bite size tasks makes it easier to get momentum going.  So start a new Bible study in a new suburb before you try and start a new church.

b. There is also something to learn from Ryle’s evangelistic tactics. He put trained people on the ground, Bible in hand and face to face with the people. The gospel workers became a part of the community they set out to reach as they took ‘church’ to the people. In this regard it has been good to see many of our local churches committed to 1-2-1 relational evangelism and discipleship. Richard Borgonon’s recent South African seminars on the Word121 studies have been a welcome help in this regard. I commend this material to you as a vital tool for your outreach and discipleship cabinet.

c. Ryle used lay workers as part of his evangelism and outreach teams. Its interesting to note that this same mixed gender, 3 person home evangelism strategy has been used globally, with great success, by the EEIII evangelism program. I’m pleased to see a resurgence of interest in the new EEII material. Some of our churches as well as GWC will be implementing this course in 2017. The strength of EEIII is that it includes “on the job training”. This should be an obvious tactic because evangelism demands we actually evangelise and not just learn about it. I have yet to be convinced of any better way of learning to share the gospel and I encourage every one of our local churches to be intentionally training and doing evangelism as part of their yearly calendar. It should be every local church’s strategy to be teaching the gospel publicly and from house to house (Acts 20:20).

d. One other thing to note about Ryle was his absolute heart for the lost regardless of their social standing. The class system was a huge divide in 19th century and was deeply ingrained in society. It’s not that hard to see similarities to our own history.  Ryle’s words are still relevant:

“I never will admit for a moment that the working classes in Lancashire are not to be won to Christ, if the proper means are used. It is false to say that naturally they are a bit more inclined to infidelity or immorality than other classes. They are all descended from the same parents, Adam and Eve, and are all born with the same hearts and consciences as the highest and noblest in the land. But they are what they are, apparently Godless and non-worshippers, simply because they are ‘let alone,’ never visited, never spoken to, never dealt with lovingly, as Christ dealt with the Samaritan woman. They are a field which, if rightly cultivated, is capable of bearing a rich harvest to the glory of God.” [2]

In our country we continue to struggle with prejudice that has seen racism elevated again and again to levels of national debate. Scandalous tweets and hate speech have been regularly highlighted often overshadowing the good relations the majority of our country pursues and enjoys. It must certainly go without saying in this Christian gathering but I say it now to put it on record.  No racism (subtle or overt) is acceptable among ministers of the gospel in REACH-SA. We must do all that we can by all means possible to reach all the people of our country for Christ.

This connects us to my next point.

  1. Partnership – Building Gospel Work

I have continually called for cross cultural partnerships as an effective way forward in a country with such vast economic disparity. As I have travelled around I have been thrilled to see evidence of strong gospel relationships between our suburban and township churches. I know that there is much more to be done and crossing cultural, social and ethnic boundaries does not happen easily. Homogenous groups come naturally and pragmatic desire for church growth may even encourage such an approach. Yet in Christ we are called to express our diversity in unity and so we must do so intentionally. A vibrant, ethnically diverse, local church is a powerful witness to a country still struggling with division and prejudice. I pray that our God will make us more and more a reflection of the united Body of Christ to the world around us.

In considering partnership I also want to highlight the benefits of creative gospel partnership through establishing community projects and mercy ministries.  Many of our township or inner city contexts can be reached for Christ through creches, day care centres, feeding schemes, clinics and schools. I commend the yearly Love TrustConference to you as a great opportunity to hear and learn more about reaching our communities through education initiatives.

Our universities are also essential targets for evangelistic attention. Many people in ministry today can trace their conversion to their university or young adult years. We would be foolish to ignore such a key sector of our country’s population. During this synod meetings will be taking place to discuss ways to strengthen our partnership and focus resources on building a more effective and unified gospel network on our university campuses. I particularly encourage all student workers to attend those meetings.

  1. Planting – Widening our REACH

I am happy to report that the New Projects Fund has benefited from a healthy surplus this year and for this we give much praise to our God. You will hear more on this during the financial report. In these difficult economic days God’s provision is not to be taken for granted. I am also grateful to God for our local church congregations who continue to pay their levies. Your commitment makes you privileged participants in the work of planting and supporting new gospel works. One encouraging result of this New Projects plan is that it shows us it is possible to manage our current financial model in such a way that we can set aside significant funds for gospel work in our poorest communities and key population areas.  I believe there is even more we can do in the future, but this is a promising start.

The real challenge now is for local churches to put their teams together and get working. There has already been plenty of work done in identifying key population centres and many strategy and planning meetings have been happening. I’ve also had some promising exploratory meetings with various local church groupings who have an eye on future church plants. Remember, it’s not up to the denomination to plant churches. Local churches plant local churches. Our REACH-SA trustees have helped to set aside some ‘start up’ financial resources, but brothers and sisters, the ball is now in your court.

  1. Praying – Acknowledging our dependence

This seems such an obvious point to emphasise. Yet from my own experience it’s often the biggest struggle. I’m concerned that prayer does not have the same urgency in our churches as it did in former years.  I’m also not seeing it modelled or taught to our congregations.  I once asked a large church youth group if any of them had family devotions or Bible time in their home. Not a single hand was raised. Has the Christian culture of family and corporate prayer also been swallowed up by our increasingly distracted society? I myself have been recently rebuked for too often reaching for my cell phone before my prayer diary in the mornings.

“Unless the Lord builds the house the workers labour in vain” (Ps.127:1). We cannot work unless God works in us, therefore we must pray.  In the new year I intend to renew our focus on the annual Ascension Day of Prayer (and fasting). I also want to urge our regions to make adequate time for group prayer during regional meetings and gatherings. Our country needs revival and we must be persistently praying for God to be at work in our land. The Great evangelists of the past recognized the power of prayer and always recruited intercessors for fervent prayer during gospel preaching events. And the Lord answered their requests!  Prayer and evangelism are inseparable.

 

Before we look to the year ahead I want us to reflect on something we possibly take for granted. You will notice that this charge and our Synod agenda contains little or nothing to raise the eyebrows. It’s highly unlikely that our synod discussions will make headlines in any newspapers.

We are not meeting this week to clash over the authority of the Bible or the exclusivity of Christ. We have no contentions over the definition of marriage or the sinfulness of fornication and homosexual practice. We are not fighting over liberation theology or debating the ethics of abortion and euthanasia. Other denominations have found themselves deeply divided over these issues and many are fracturing. The Anglican church is, of course, right in the middle of such battles and is, to all intents and purposes, a deeply divided communion. But here at the REACH-SA synod we are talking about the gospel and how we can more effectively reach the lost and disciple the found. Praise God!

Yes we must thank God for our gospel unity but we must also guard against complacency. I suspect that greater pressure will come our way as society swings further and further away from Biblical values. Opposition to the Evangelical faith is becoming more militant. We are also surrounded by many priests who say what the itching ears of society want to hear. We must be ready and equipped to guard the gospel and not shy away from tackling the tough issues of the day. To that end we can also be thankful for a Bible college that provides us with sound Biblical training and clear Reformed scholarship. We can also be grateful for the broader Anglican Evangelical network which helps and supports us through fellowship and shared resources. May the Lord continue to keep us united in the gospel and committed to living by our motto:  “God’s Word above all things”.

Looking Ahead

Next year will mark 500th anniversary of the Reformation.  In October 1517, Martin Luther famously nailed his 95 Theses on the Wittenberg church door and set off a chain of events that has changed the world. I anticipate that this historic milestone will garner little interest from the non Christian world and perhaps not much more from the Christian world. I also suspect that whatever publicity the Reformation does receive will be largely negative.

Certainly we know better than that. Our Reformed Evangelical Anglican Church in South Africa has continually stood firm on the doctrines that the great Reformers rediscovered and proclaimed. Our God has graciously brought great returns from the faithful preaching of His Word.

The Reformation also had a ripple effect on society. As the Word of God spread, hearts were changed for Christ. In turn priorities changed. Education became important, care for the poor and the sick also improved. Society changed as souls were saved. But we must not miss the heart of it all – the return of the gospel to the people. The message of justification by grace through faith reverberated across Europe and on into the world. We must not forget or play down what God accomplished through the Reformation.

Some circles are making noise about the 500th anniversary marking the end of the Reformation. I believe this is not the case. The gospel of justification by grace through faith is still the separation point between true believers and mere religious observers. It also continues to be the great divide between Protestants and the Roman Catholic church. We cannot relegate the essence of the gospel to a minor difference. We hold to the Reformation cry that sinners are justified by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, through Scripture alone, to the glory of God alone.

The Bible is the inerrant and infallible Word of God and is our final authority, not human reason, not modern society and not the Church. The message of the Bible is about what God has done for us not what we must do for God. May God help us never to compromise on this salvation truth.

Through the years the doctrine of justification has endured much attack intentionally and subversively. Yet God in His kindness has preserved and grown His church on the backs and blood of those first Reformers. We owe a great debt to Luther, Calvin, Cranmer and a myriad of other witnesses who put their lives and comfort second to the cause of Christ.  We owe it to them to examine our own lives and ask of ourselves how greatly we value this precious gospel of justification by faith.

That a holy God loves sinners like me is an astounding truth that runs contrary to every sinful thought of the fallen mind. But God has shone His light in our hearts and by grace awakened us from the dead and brought us to life in Christ. We would be foolish (nay wicked) not to do all that we can to share the light of Christ’s saving grace with a dark and lost world around us.

To that end, this is my challenge to you for 2017 and the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation:

#REACH500

To put it simply, the goal I give to every local church is to share the gospel with 500 new people in 2017.

I am not talking about church attendance, but intentional face to face sharing of the gospel through 1-2-1 meetings, home evangelism, evangelistic events (with record of responses) and similar tactics. You will need to be creative and courageous in your outreach approach. You will need to take time to assess your community and use the resources at your disposal. Yes, use door to door and traditional evangelistic events but also look for the doors that our society and culture unknowingly gives us. There are many opportunities on our doorstep (literally). Did you know that the PokemonGo game is bringing teenagers to the front doors of our church buildings?  In this gaming app, every church is a Pokemon Gym or PokeStop. This means many teenagers are visiting your church property every day. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about ask the nearest teenager.) My own local church had its first Pokemon visitors to youth some weeks ago. What are you doing to invite these welcome trespassers to hear the gospel?  Maybe try offering free Wi-Fi or free coffee? Maybe have some outdoor activity that provides opportunity for people to connect. Be prayerfully thinking about creative ways to engage people with the gospel.

A statistic I heard from the Billy Graham Organization is that on average 5% of people who heard the gospel became followers of Christ. This means that (under God) if you share the gospel with 500 people in 2017 you could have 25 new believers in your church in 2018.  I believe this is a target every one of us could aspire to reach, even our smaller congregations.

It’s important to also maintain a culture of relational outreach in our local churches. Statistics show that about 80% of new visitors come because of a friend’s invitation.[3] That teaches us something about the importance of a people loving and welcoming local church family. We naturally become inward looking so we must constantly work against that tendency because the Gospel drives us to be outward looking (Matt.28:19f). You may also need to do some practical assessment of your local church context. Is your venue “user friendly”? Will it be easy for a visitor to enter and be shown a seat. Is there something a newcomer will not understand or find off-putting? Sometimes we can be so used to an in-house obstacle that we don’t even realize it’s a deterrent to a visitor.

We must also harness the internet and social media culture which holds so much attention for people today. Lets use it to spread news of gospel events.  Recruit people in your church who know how to use advertising methods and graphic design tools. Produce good quality online tracts, blogs and pictures for people to see. We live in a very visual and multi-media age. Lets take advantage of it. Make sure you also share the images of your events and activities so we can encourage and pray for each other. Its also good to share ideas for evangelism for the rest of us to try too. I look forward to seeing lots of #REACH500 posts and pics in 2017.

Brothers and sisters, let us make 2017 a year of Evangelism. There will be numerous events celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in various ways. We too should rejoice in the rediscovery of Grace. I can see no better way of celebrating Luther than by giving all of our efforts and harnessing all of our resources to proclaim the gospel of justification by grace through faith to a whole new generation living in our beautiful land and continent.

Lord give us Africa for Jesus.  Amen.

[1] http://new.virtueonline.org/jc-ryles-evangelistic-strategy

[2] Ryle, J.C.  Charges and Addresses –   Light by Design.net   Kindle (loc.1304)

[3] https://www.evangelismcoach.org/2012/personal-invitations-to-church-are-most-effective/

HOLY WAR – by Ray Beckman

Where is the real ‘Holy War’ raging today?

We have chosen to immerse ourselves in the book of Judges this term -sermons, Lifegroups, Sunday school and youth group. Seeing God’s longsuffering faithfulness in spite of the rebellion of his people, should be a searchlight of hope for us in our messy world and lives. But Judges is also a difficult, disturbing and violent book. That raises some questions. We know on the one hand, it is just the point -to see the awful, tragic mess that results from a people who say ‘no’ to God. But how are we to process some of the violence that is commanded by God, when, for example, he tells his people to ruthlessly do away with the Canaanite inhabitants of the land? This, so called ‘Holy war’? There is a very helpful reflection on this from Tim Keller in our Lifegroup material, but I offer the following thoughts* too as we work through Judges this term (*based on a previous sermon).

Here are 3 things to ponder:

Firstly,

  1. The character of God

We used to paint this scenario at youth groups sometimes: ‘If you could rule for one month, what 5 new rules would you make? (For example, it’s against the law to ask husband to change a nappy! Although many husbands seem to somehow avoid that anyway!)

It may be a fun scenario, but when it comes to the Ruler of the Universe, we are sadly adept at doing the same, with tragic consequences: We make God in our own image. We make the rules about what God should be like and act like. And when we do that, what are we most tempted to do in terms of this god’s character and actions? We are much more comfortable with a god who never gets angry, has less rules, and certainly one who doesn’t send people to hell. The god of our design is all candy floss and squishiness. It’s certainly not the God Isaiah knew in the Bible, as Shaun showed us a few weeks back in the evening service: In ch6 he gets a glimpse of God in a vision which almost scares him to death (Isaiah 6:3-5).

How God describes himself

What is God like really? We cannot do better than His description of himself in Exodus 34:6-7

Like Isaiah, Moses gets a glimpse of God’s glory, but it’s what he hears that is significant: God describes himself as a God of loving pursuit of his people – mercy, grace, love, forgiving…a God for us! And he is perfect in those attributes. That is wonderful, gospel news; but we can’t stop halfway through: In v7, we read that God is also a judging God –a God who responds to sin in judgment, and he is likewise perfect in that attribute too. The overwhelming description of God in the Bible is that he is kind, loving and caring. But part of his love is to not let people get away with their sin: To know the God of the Bible is to know that all he does is good, perfect, upright and just. God’s judgment is always just. We need a God like this. We need perfect justice in a world of terrifying injustice. But that does confront us with some hard truths, things that are not easy to understand. There are many mysteries about God’s ways. And there ought to be. A God we could figure out, would not be God. (Romans 11:33-36) Lisa Beam, a Christian, who lost her husband in the 9/11 twin tower attacks, said this: “My faith wasn’t rooted in governments, religion, tall buildings, or frail people. Instead, my faith and security were in God. A thought struck me. Who are you to question God and say that you have a better plan than He does? You don’t have the same wisdom and knowledge that he has, or the understanding of the big picture… Faith means that, regardless of circumstances, we take him at his word, that he loves us and will bring us to a good result if we just trust and obey him.” Don’t presume to know better than God how to run the world.

God is the perfect judge, and it in no way conflicts with his love, but is part of it.

  1. The nature of the wars

Having said this about God’s character, how do we see that displayed in these wars and conflicts that we read of in Joshua and Judges?

When Israel, under Joshua, first cross the Jordan to begin the conquest of the promised land, there is an event that explains much of what is happening with these conflicts:

In Joshua 5 we read of a strange interruption in Israel’s march on the land (5:13-16): Joshua and the people are on their way to destroy Jericho, under the command of God, but before they get there they are stopped by a soldier. When Joshua asks whether he is fighting for them or against them he says: ‘No.’

He turns out to be the commander of the armies of the Lord, and God sends him across Joshua’s path at this crucial point to make one thing absolutely clear: God is not fighting for Joshua, Joshua is fighting for God. The Lord doesn’t follow Joshua into battle, Joshua is following the Lord.

And so we see throughout Joshua, God instigates the battles, and Joshua follows commands (e.g 10:40, 11:20). This is true in Judges too, as the conquest of the land continues under God’s command (e.g. Judges 1:1-2, 22, 2:28).

We also see in a number of places in Judges, how God makes it clear that He is sovereignly controlling the nations to do his bidding, especially in judgment over Israel. (e.g. 2:14-17)

And so it’s at this point that we need to trust the justice of God. We need to realize that God has every reason, and every right, to deal with people as he sees fit. We need to remind ourselves that what he does is good, perfect and upright. God doesn’t even need to explain to us his actions. In the case of the conquest of the land, however, God gives us an explanation for his actions: 400 years before the time of Joshua, God speaks to Abraham and says that, though God promised that Abraham and his descendants would come take possession of the land, the reason the inhabitants would be destroyed by them is because ‘their iniquity is not yet complete.’ (Genesis 15:16-21) When the battle began under Joshua, the people living in the promised land had been sinning against God, rejecting him and denying his rule, for over 400 years. So the wiping out of all the people in the land as Joshua and Israel take possession of it, are not the actions of bloodthirsty, venge-filled men, nor the actions of a vindictive God, but we are reading of the awful, but just, judgment of God against sinful men, through his agents, Israel. (I take it we are to keep the same principle in mind when it comes to those passages that speak of punishment of the sins of the fathers on their children, such as in Deut 34:7, Ex 20:5-6. Explicit here, is that it is people in generations following, who hate Him.)

Having said all that, you might still feel it all seems too much, too harsh –doesn’t God’s judgment go too far?

Let’s look finally at that, as we examine our response:

  1. Our response

The seriousness of sin

Part of the reason we think God is seriously overreacting is because we haven’t reacted enough to the seriousness of sin. Part of the reason we won’t share the gospel is because we don’t really want to tell people that sinners are deserving of hell.  Yet the Bible is very clear about the problem of sin and the reality of hell. Jesus is very clear about it. I believe in hell, because Jesus did (Mark 9:47-48; Romans 3:23, 6:23). Not to give God glory is serious. We need to realize that every act of judgment we read about is a reminder that if God were to deal justly with us, we all deserve to be wiped off the face of the earth. We are sinners who only deserve death, and that is graphically illustrated in those tough OT texts. We should wince, we should be uncomfortable at the pain and destruction, but not with disbelief that God could justifiably do such a thing, but with a holy fear that he should do such a thing to you and me because of our sin. Truth is, all of us have lived just as they lived, rejecting God and denying his rule in our lives. We deserve to face the judgment of God for our sins. But because of Jesus we don’t have to face that judgment. And so secondly, our response should be to be filled with…

Joy over Jesus, and a hunger for holiness

How does God forgive sinners and remain just? Once again we see God using evil humanity, murdering Jesus. But 1 Peter 3:18 tells us why Jesus died (not as a tragic accident, but under the sovereign will of God): “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the Spirit.”

Judgment stories in OT should not only remind us how great our sin is, but also how great a price Jesus paid on the cross to forgive us. And we should be filled with praise for the Father sending the Son, and praise the Son for willingly going through all that for us. Isn’t it an incredible comfort to know that when the events of the mad world are raging around you, God is delighted with you in Christ, and that will never change! And that too should make us a people passionate for holiness -to be different from the world, to be salt and light to a lost, dying world. As Titus 2:11-14 clearly shows us -holiness is rooted in our salvation.

The real ‘holy war’ that now rages for the Christian, then, is in the heart: The fight against sin, and the fight to honour and obey this Life-giving gracious God who has done everything to save us from his right wrath.

BOOKS AT A GLANCE – Bruce Witherspoon

Tim Keller PrayerBOOK REVIEW by Bruce Witherspoon
Book Title: Prayer – Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God
Author: Timothy Keller

Many Christian books are a useful once-off read but are then tossed aside, gather dust on a bookshelf somewhere and are soon forgotten. Others like J.I. Packer’s Knowing God and C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity provide a resource that can feed and stimulate us for a lifetime. I have little doubt that Tim Keller’s masterful book ‘Prayer’ will come to be regarded as a classic that readers will return to again and again.
In the introduction Keller admits that “the best material on prayer has already been written. Yet many of the excellent books on prayer tend to be primarily theological or devotional or practical, but seldom do they combine the theological, experiential, and methodological all under one cover”. Keller doesn’t jump immediately into the how in this book, he first develops a biblical theology of prayer. Why do we pray? What is prayer? The major strength of this book is it’s well rounded approach to the subject of prayer. Keller gives a strong sense that the why and what questions about prayer are just as important as the how questions about prayer.

Keller is not trying to write anything new on prayer. He openly confesses to only having developed a deep and meaningful prayer life after the age of fifty. This was in response to tough personal conditions that forced him and his wife to the conclusion that deepening their prayer life was the only way they could cope with their circumstances. He therefore embarked on a journey of exploration into what the Bible and Christian history had to teach about prayer, and put everything into practice in his personal life. This book is the result of that massive scholarly and personal journey. ‘Prayer ’is therefore a solidly Biblical book. True to Keller’s customary style, and in keeping with the Reformed Evangelical tradition in which he writes, the source of all the ideas and advice given is God’s Word itself. Keller brings to life the subject of prayer from both the Old and New Testaments, and draws deeply from The Psalms, the inspired prayer book of the Bible. God’s word permeates this book, as it should every prayer.

Keller also interacts wonderfully with a rich variety of authors and theologians from throughout Church history. He does not hesitate to rely on those who have come before him, pulling back the curtain on centuries of godly advice on the subject of prayer. In these pages you will come to meet, understand and share Keller’s admiration for such Christian greats as Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Edwards, Owen, Henry and C.S Lewis, to name but a few of the more well-known who have deepened and enriched our understanding of prayer.

This is not an easy book, because prayer is not an easy subject! It will frustrate readers looking for simple mechanical formulas. But it will enrich and liberate those who yearn to mature in their faith and participate in mysteries they cannot fully understand. Keller boldly wades into the deep richness of prayer, exploring it’s multi-faceted and often paradoxical nature. Prayer takes both head and heart. Prayer is awe before an infinite force, yet it is intimacy with a personal friend. Prayer is a struggle and a duty, yet it is a delight.

If you are looking for a book that covers all the ground on the subject of prayer, then this ‘fresh classic’ by Tim Keller is your answer. You will get a biblical grounding in prayer, a gospel motivation for prayer and practical methods for prayer. The chapters move seamlessly through from theology to practice. However the real strength of this book is that it will move you and challenge you. The journey of prayer, and relating to the God who created you, is laid out before you in such an honest, genuine, rich and inspiring way that you will want to pray more and pray more deeply. I have read this book twice, and I am not nearly finished with it.

PRAYING FOR MARRIAGES – Ray Beckman

Praying for Marriages

It was a pleasant Sunday and five college students were sightseeing in London when they decided to hear the famed C. H. Spurgeon preach. Arriving at the huge church they sat on the steps and waited for the doors to open. While chatting among themselves a man from the congregation came by and greeted them and engaged them in pleasant conversation. After a while he asked, “Gentlemen, let me show you around. Would you like to see the heating plant of this church?” The young men were not particularly interested, as a heating plant was not on the top of their list of things they wanted to visit. Besides it was fast becoming an extremely hot day in July. But they didn’t want to offend the stranger, so they consented. The young men were taken down a stairway, a door was quietly opened, and their guide whispered, “This is our heating plant.” Surprised, the students saw 700 people quietly bowed in prayer, seeking a blessing on the service that was soon to begin in the auditorium above. Softly closing the door, the gentleman then introduced himself. It was none other than Charles Haddon Spurgeon.

If you’re a regular at St James, you will know that we have been spending a great deal of the past few months focusing on one of our core values, prayer. Amongst other things we have been encouraging you to pray the Bible – in particular the promises of God. Another key focus area has been marriage. With the help of Paul Tripp’s excellent series ‘What did you expect?’, many of us have had the opportunity to give more tlc to this precious gift of marriage.

I would like to, for the purposes of this article, ‘marry the two’ (if you’ll excuse the pun;). In other words, what should we be praying for marriage? If you’re married, what should you be praying for and with each other? If you’re not married, what should you be praying for other people’s marriages? What a vital, ‘church family’ activity to be constantly engaged in together in the midst of a world full of broken, painful and strained relationships. How we need many filled ‘heating plants’ of people praying for each other in these matters!

Here, then, are some things I want to encourage God’s community to pray for, in the light of that most well known passage on marriage, Ephesians 5:15-33. Take time to read and reflect on it, and draw out specific things to pray for. I have purposely started from v15, to remind us that Paul has set these examples of specific relationships (husbands and wives -5:22-33; children and parents-6:1-4; slaves and masters -6:5-9) in the context of mutual love and submission that God calls us to display as His people.

Here are some prayer priorities I have drawn out from the passage:
WE MUST PRAY:

  • And give thanks to God for his gift of biological and Christian family
  • That we will all be a people passionate to walk in love and holiness, and not be afraid to hold each other accountable
  • That Christian couples recognize how crucial it is to serve and be served in the local church
  • That wives understand and model Christ’s submission, and not be persuaded by the world that biblical submission is archaic, sexist or unenlightened
  • That husbands understand and model Christ’s love more and more, and that they not allow the world’s idea of love to ‘squeeze them into its mould’
  • That husbands will stand up, be bold, and work hard at their role as godly, loving heads, and lead their family’s walk into holiness and Christ-likeness
  • That Christian husbands and wives will ‘fight on their knees’ before God, and guard their oneness
  • That Christian married couples embrace more deeply the implications of their marriage being a picture of Christ and His church.
  • For the witnessing opportunities that marriage brings both inside and outside the home
  • And give thanks for how God leads and nourishes His church
Ray Beckman

RISEN – A REVIEW – Jacques Erasmus

 

RISEN – A REVIEW by Jacques Erasmus

There’s an old saying: “All that glitters is not gold.”

It’s a reminder that appearances are not everything and often do not reveal the true nature of a thing. To be honest, that’s often how I feel when Hollywood tries to put the Bible on the big screen. It may glitter but it certainly isn’t gold!

After watching Noah and seeing the trailer of Exodus: God’s and King’s, two movies that failed entirely in biblical accuracy, my expectation was not that high for the new movie Risen, but I was pleasantly surprised and emotionally moved by it.

The resurrection is at the very heart of the message of the gospel. The Apostle Paul emphasized this when he said: “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile” (1 Corinthians 15:17). As a Christian and one who loves movies, I would say that this movie ‘glitters’ as a friend to that message, though it is not ‘gold’.

The movie looks at the story of the resurrection from the perspective of a sceptic. Like a detective mystery set in ancient times, the movie centres around a Roman soldier named Clavius and his aide, a young and zealous soldier named Lucius, as they are tasked by Pontius Pilate to investigate the whereabouts of Jesus’ body.

Since the story depicted in the movie is about a fictional Roman tribune encountering the risen Christ, there is a lot of subject-matter in the movie which is not in Scripture, thus not ‘gold’. However, when he interviews and encounters individuals mentioned in Scripture, it is as if he encounters the events recorded in the last three chapters of John.

Clavius also often spends time with Pilate or elsewhere in fictional scenes which may or may not have happened, though the fictional events are definitely within the realm of possibility. However, when Clavius encounters the Disciples for the first time, he basically stumbles upon the second manifestation of the risen Lord wherein Thomas is able to see and touch Christ’s hands and side. (John 20:26-28)

A WORD OF CAUTION

Whenever we encounter extra-Biblical dialogues in movies we need to tread carefully.

The same goes with this movie.

Of course Jesus words in Scripture are not the only words Jesus spoke while on earth, Scripture tells us so (John 21:25). But, when thinking or imagining words He might have said, we begin to contemplate words which are not in the text, and I think this can be dangerous as it undermines Sola Scriptura. In other words, do not take these extra-Biblical words as authoritative or accurate in any way.

However, this movie did a good job of reducing the number of times Jesus (the actor) actually speaks, and most of the time he speaks he is saying that which is found in Scripture. There is one scene though, where this representation of Jesus is talking to Clavius, and it is here that extra-Biblical dialogue is introduced. Yet, it is introduced in an evangelistic fashion, which fits perfectly with the nature of this movie as being a ‘glittering’ friend to the message of the gospel.

The part that I did struggle with at first was the portrayal of the elite Roman sentry that stood guard at the tomb. They are portrayed as being two soldiers without sleep and who were drunk. This they said was the reason they “slumbered.”

What I appreciated though about their portrayal is that, later, one of them, telling the truth now, said they saw a bright light. He tells it in such a way that it shows him seeking understanding, even asking Clavius to explain it to him.

I also appreciate, in the portrayal Caiaphas, the deviousness of Caiaphas and how they devised the lie about the disciples taking the body of Jesus.

CONCLUSION

Overall, the directors did a good job and they were sensitive to material actually found in Scripture. This places the movie in contrast to most others faith based movies. Remain discerning though, while watching it and do not allow the movie to influence your perception of the true Christ, rather let the Scriptures themselves influence your understanding of Christ. View it as a reminder of the Gospel and a depiction of a heart-warming testimony about a sinner in rebellion against God being called to share in the riches of Christ.

 

 

 

SELF EVIDENT IN CHRIST – Shaun Darker

I am not ignorant that much has already been written with regards to the racial tension in our country. Blogs and online media are overflowing with opinions and advice, articles that are helpful and those that do little other than incite hate are in abundance.. I’m sure that the caricature cartoonists are at their best, making light hearted banter of a rather serious issue. I have read the many statements from churches, parachurch organizations and some mature Christian opinions I value. Facebook has pinged out of control and data bundles depleted from the mass of videos portraying -as well as CNN could- the violence and menace of all that is happening.

I am also not ignorant that I write this as a very white male, shaped by my privileged past. And moulded by my Eurocentric right to do things my way and have the last word. I am challenged by the constant dialogue of those around me that reaffirm this by  using language of exclusion, “they”, “them”, “us”, “our”.  Challenged by the braai conversations of how bad it is getting, only to see the inch steak turned and another craft beer opened from the camping fridge that normally resides in the back of the Fortuner, parked on the pavement in, what to my mind, might resemble a laager.

But mostly I am aware that this letter need be addressed to no one but myself, and thus I will address it to me. You are welcome to do the same, to read it as if to no one else but yourself.

So where do we start?

WITH ME

The increasing conflict between cultures is part of a larger problem of identity and otherness. The general tendency of people (including Christians) to give ultimate allegiance to their cultures leads inevitably to a kind of “sacralisation of cultural identity” captive to one’s culture, and so to an unbalanced view of culture and identity. This generally leads to people holding onto things with both hands as if their identity would fall to ruins if they were challenged. This is always problematic as it promotes an intrinsic division of otherness. The so called “them”.

Instead of reflecting on the kind of society we ought to create in order to accommodate individual and communal heterogeneity, it is a wiser question to ask what kind of selves we need to be in order to live in harmony with others. The church should perhaps focus less on social arrangement and more on social agents. It is the church as individuals that ushers in the kingdom. What should shape social agents so that they in turn can fashion healthy influence over culture?

It requires cultivating a proper relation between distance from the culture and belonging to it. For Christians there should be a change of loyalty. Identity is not culturally found and people bound; but rather and only in Christ. There should be a move away from self, a required move to depart from a particular culture and give ultimate allegiance to the God of all cultures. This is anchored in Paul’s understanding of the cross. The cross of Christ, as the foundation of a new community, creates unity as Christ gives himself for many. The differences among many members are not erased but brought together in a complex interplay of diversity. Yet each difference is challenged at the cross and tested, purging all “idols” that have hidden under the sacrilege of culture. Religion must be de-ethnicized so that ethnicity can be de-sacralised. Paul deprived each culture of ultimacy in order to give them legitimacy in Christ. Paul deconstructs the falsehood around cultures to point to the unifying work of the cross. With one foot planted in our own cultures and the other in God’s future, we have a vantage point from which to perceive and judge the self. We can all then become as Christ intends self-less. Not simply because of moral intent but because of God’s new world, a world in which a great multitude “from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages” is gathered “before the throne and before the Lamb” (Rev 7:9)

Paul does this practically in Gal 2:19-20 – Paul de-centres his self (the old self being crucified with Christ) but also re-centres himself around Christ (it is Christ who lives in me) The story of Christ in His self-giving love, is at the centre of Paul’s self, Christ being the new identity that Paul has taken on.

My challenge to all, is that we will stand far away from our cultures to see the bias, the sin and the idols that we bring with. But close enough that we can transform it by the power of Christ at work in us. As followers of Christ we have a new identity that has been moulded by grace, we no longer live for the self, but rather for the one who gave Himself. Where we have not done this it is to our shame, and we should fall on bended knee in repentance, without a change of heart there will never be change of self.

WITH US

Inscribed on the very heart of God’s grace is the rule that we can be its recipients only if we do not resist being made into its agents, what happens to us must be done by us. Having been embraced by God we should embrace others. Not for any merit on their side but simply because the love of Christ compels us. John sates this so well, (1John4:7-12)

7Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. 8Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.11Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.

In fact, Christ burdens love by requiring that we love our enemies, as Christ pointed out to his followers, they will be children of God not necessarily when they love those who love them but when they love their enemies and thus imitate God’s one-sided love directed towards a rebellious and estranged humanity. It is the downward movement of God, his self-giving love for sinful humanity, and his passion to save the world that presents the model for our social practice, and relational norm. That while we were still enemies of God, Christ died for us. This encourages a proactive reconciliation. A going into the world of cultures and loving unconditionally an inclusive “US”. Echoing a new understanding of what it means to say “Our Father who art in heaven”.

It causes us to pray at every opportunity for unity. Not only when disunity is perceived. It causes us to learn a language other than our mother tongue so as to address someone else in theirs. It causes us to become nauseated at the shallow racial jokes so often uttered at social gatherings, it asks us to include in our understanding of the church all peoples. Not as a mission project but as the great commission project. It causes us to find our hope in Christ and not in a political figure. It causes each of us to think long and hard about comfort and kingdom. May we come to love all people with the same kind of love that we have because of the cross.

Soli Deo Gloria

Shaun Darker